Welcome to Dames Who Make Games, Gamerwife’s interview series with the lovely ladies who make our video games. Whether you’re a QA tester or a company VP, we want to hear what you have to say. And remember to click “Continue reading” for the whole story.
Regular readers of Gamerwife may recognize Dames Who Make Games interviewee Sasha S. as one of the makers of Let There Be Life, a peaceful little game I reviewed some months back. In addition to being a self-taught artist, Sasha and her husband have made the leap into indie game development with their company, Backwards pieS. Sasha was kind enough to take time from porting Let There Be Life on mobile to answer some questions about her inspiration, influences, and of course, favourite games.
Gamerwife: Let’s start at the beginning, what was the first game you ever played?
Sasha S.: Oregon Trail when I was in elementary school. The first game I ever owned was the 1990 hand-held Little Mermaid game by Tiger Inc.
GW: What made you decide on a career in games?
Sasha: When my husband and were engaged, I was in the process of changing careers. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do but I wanted to do something with children.
I thought about writing and illustrating children’s books. I took a few art classes and a class on writing for children. When my husband was let go from from the serious games company he was working for at the time, he wanted to start his own indie game studio. We decided that it would be too much for one person to handle and we both jumped into creating Backward pieS (a play on our last name, Seip). It was a perfect fit for me because now I could create art, and do something for children.
GW: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Sasha: I am self taught, but took a few art classes from the local adult education programs in our area, and a few at the local Audubon Center. I always loved art and drawing. I learned game design through just watching people play our games, and having discussions with my husband.
GW: What was your inspiration for Let There Be Life?
Sasha: Let There Be Life came about from the Edge Online Get Into Games competition in 2013 (Ed: They were the first runner’s up). The theme for the competition was “Do No Harm.” I love nature and gardening, and came up with the idea of building enchanted trees. Each tree wanted to grow, but didn’t want to hurt his flower friends below with the shade cast by his leaves.
I wanted to make an art game that everyone can play. I want children and even their grandparents to be able to play (perhaps together) so we had to have simple controls. It’s my hope that Let There Be Life will be able to bring joy and relaxation to its players, because life can be hard sometimes. I wanted to make a game that wasn’t like any other game out there.
GW: Were there particular games or artists that influenced your take on Let There Be Life?
Sasha: The art for the game was hand-painted watercolor that I created myself. I took inspiration from wildlife artists and Beatrix Potter.
GW: What are the best/worst things about working in video games?
Sasha: There are so many wonderful things about working in video games and having my own indie studio… where do I begin!
The first thing would be working with my husband. I also love being able to be at home with my pets and making my own hours.
Next would be the joy I get when I hear or see someone enjoying one of my games. Through games I can try to bring a little happiness to lots of people. I really love it when I hear someone say that their child really had fun playing my game.
As for the worst… one is definitely finding a bug in our game and then telling my husband to fix it!
Another bad thing about working in games is the anxiety of worrying about whether our game will be successful. Living in fear of not being able to make a living doing what you love is not fun. I always worry that someone will just flat out hate my game and criticize it.
GW: Are there unique challenges you’ve faced as an independent developer? What were they and how did you overcome them?
Sasha: Running a studio has so many challenges– from getting the tech to work, to getting things done on time, to finding bugs and fixing them. Creating a game that ‘makes an artistic statement’ yet is enjoyable for people is a sometimes difficult balancing act.
I overcome these challenges by taking a deep breath, popping the kettle on for tea, and just plugging away at them one by one. I try to approach everything calmly… If all else fails I step away and do yoga. When I come back I usually have a solution.
GW: Have you ever had issues with harassment or discrimination as a women in video games?
Sasha: No, I have the good fortune of working with my husband. We are a small studio– just the two of us. I haven’t had any issues with fellow developers or game studios.
I think times are slowly starting to change and women are becoming more accepted. Although, we still have a long road to perfection.
GW: What advice do you have for other women who want to be involved in game development?
Sasha: I would say to other women, “don’t give up.” Remember that you have value and you have your own set of talents. If you have an idea, speak up. Take risks, and don’t worry about failing. If you should make a mistake, learn from it, fix it, and then don’t worry about it.
I would also say that us women need to stick together. I like remembering the great women in the past who got us where we are today. To quote Rosie The Riveter: “We Can Do It!”
GW: What games are you playing right now?
Sasha: Am I allowed to say my own game, Let There Be Life?
I’ve been working so hard porting Let There Be Life to mobile that play testing my own game has been the only game playing I’m doing right now. Hopefully when I’m done with the ports I can play some more indie games. Maybe even some Oregon Trail and Little Mermaid!
GW: Favourite game of all time or game you wish you had made?
Sasha: There’s no specific game that I wish I had made, but I would love to work on games that bring awareness to different environmental issues and the conservation of species such as in Audubon’s Mission Migration.
I don’t really have a favorite game of all time, but in general I like games that have interesting characters, beautiful art, and that are nature-themed and/or bring awareness to environmental issues. A good example would be Ecco The Dolphin. And I really enjoy just riding the horses around in Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim (though I leave the combat to my husband!)
Growing up Sasha was never allowed to play video games, and now she makes them!
Now that she is married to a game developer she has embraced her inner artist. She can bring her art to life in the games that she and her husband Jason make.
When she’s not making games, she enjoys working on her own art which is wildlife or nature-themed. She also enjoys gardening, bird watching and going to steampunk events. I live Shes lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Jason and a bunch of crazy pets, including a cockatoo named Angel.
Thanks again, Sasha!
You can download her game, Let There Be Life, from the Backwards pieS website.